Archive for the ‘The Business of Designing’ Category

Designer and Teacher Compensation

August 25, 2009

This is an interesting area and when needlecrafters make the leap from Hobby to Business, they do not always think about how their compensation affects their business. And of course, needlearts being warm, fuzzy and cozy we just don’t like to think that way. But we have to. If we want our Local Yarn Stores to survive, they must use good business practices. If we want our favorite Designers to still be designing 5 years down the road, they must use good business practices as well…because the expense to get a well done design into a pattern leaflet is too expensive to do otherwise. You just could not be able to afford to stay in business.

On the end of the consumer, when we are taking classes or purchasing things at our yarn stores and we see coupons we love it. I love it, so does everyone else. If you have a teacher, and whomever is sponsoring the event offers 50% off the class…that can really affect the income of that teacher. I was appalled to read about this on a post at Wheat’s blog. To offer a 50% coupon, and then have that taken out of the compensation of the teacher is just not ethical. Especially since the shop is also making money off of the purchases of the student. When a teacher has their expenses barely covered for getting to a location, and that is it….I’m sorry that doesn’t fit the warm fuzzy cozy bill in needle-arts. Some people care about everyone but the person who is bringing them the class!

Without teachers, where would we be? Granted there are areas where people don’t have classes and they learn through books and the internet. But the ability to go to events or to Local Yarn Stores and attend a class where you are able to learn techniques, styles, types of knitting that you may not otherwise have exposure to is priceless. We should not be greedy but fair. How sick would you feel to find after traveling somewhere to teach a class and after a day of labor (or more) that you ended up working for free? That your travel was covered is customary, but because of discounts offered without talking to you, you were left with little else after paying for your travel.

That is why there are contracts. We yearn for the good old days when knitters just shared knowledge. Yeah, well, they were not flying from other states to do so either, to teach Fairisle or other complex types of knitting. Times are different now than they were 100 years ago too. Knitters didn’t have great yarn stores to congregate in for their classes, either. Those stores have upkeep (lighting, staff, insurance, bookeeping, other utilities). Those knitters didn’t have the selection of yarns available to them either that you have in a yarn store. It takes money to run a business, and if they do not earn a profit they cannot remain healthy and stay open for business. They didn’t have Designers or Teachers who had some credibility traveling to them either to teach them techniques or what have you either. That takes money too. If those individuals do not get compensated for their work, they will have to find work elsewhere. Can any of us afford to work for free? I wish I could, but there just isn’t enough resources in my wallet or strength in my body. I have bills to pay and responsibilities at home to take care of. I have to bring in a certain amount to maintain a level of independence in my business or I cannot do it. I know that is true for others as well. They cannot take food off of their tables or clothes off the backs of their families to feed our passion for our craft.

Peace and Knitting, JoLene Treace

Charlotte Now on Patternfish: Thoughts on the Digital Age

August 2, 2009

I have finally entered the fray of pdf downloads. Not myself personally, as I don’t do retail myself…but through Patternfish. I will be adding all of my pattern leaflets eventually, but started with Charlotte (link to page on Patternfish) as I had a nice lady from Norway contact me and ask if it were available in pdf. I had already decided that I was going to go ahead and go the pdf route. I know that there are many LYS that don’t like designers offering their patterns in pdf download. What many designers have found in practical experience (those that do sell directly to shops and also sell pdf downloads themselves), is that their market has increased with no real difference in sales. Their volume to their B&M (Brick and Mortar, or traditional shops), has not changed. What has happened instead is that they have widened their market by including these types of knitters:

  • Knitters in other countries who otherwise have no access to their designs
  • Knitters who only purchase pdf patterns (yes they do exist, it is their preference)
  • Knitters who do not have access to a LYS and purchase everything online

In the end we all have to do what we feel is best for our business. It was a hard decision for me to make in some respects because I am aware of the struggles that many LYS face, and I know the feelings many have about this issue. However, I have to stay competitive myself with other designers and stay current with market trends. I cannot wallow in previous business modes or decades and commiserate in sympathy and not grow my business. There is a large segment of knitters that only go online. There is a large segment that don’t go online. I know that there are only so many knitters, and the pie only gets divided so much, but I would like to be able to offer my patterns to knitters that are in other countries and don’t otherwise have access to them.  I want to make it easy for knitters to be able to get my patterns. It is all about distribution.

The thing that interests me most about this issue is that in many respects the LYS nor the distributors look at what is competition for the Designer. They add new patterns, new Designers, new products, without real concern other than how it makes their product line look. Which is to be expected…they have to look at their business and how the products they offer work together (you don’t want alot of the same thing). They view pdf as competition for them, and they are not happy about it. Some won’t purchase patterns from Designers who offer pdf downloads.

In the business world, everything is competition. The same people who are very unhappy about the competition of the pdf will think nothing of the added competition they give me as a Designer by adding more Designers to their line up, but they don’t want me to offer pdfs because it gives them competition.

I have to think of my business and what I feel is best for the knitter, and do so in a way that I feel is ethical and fair to the LYS. I will always support and defend the LYS to the best of my ability.

What I love about Patternfish is it is essentially a digital store. They take a cut from the amount just like any other retailer. And they earn it too. They offer responsive customer service. They really listen to what their customers want. They also support Designers. That itself is near and dear to my heart. They have security features on their pdf’s (they are watermarked too), so that folks are not just going to get a digital copy of one of my patterns and start their own little side business. Or “sharing” it with their knitting club. They have ease of use for the person who purchased the download, yes.  But peace of mind for the person who owns the rights to the intellectual property. The keys to the kingdom, as it were. My income.

Patternfish is essentially another store, like other stores that sell my patterns, only they sell a product that would be difficult or impossible in many respects for me to coordinate in a way I am comfortable with. I don’t do retail, so I would be dependent on whomever I am in business with to be scrupulously honest in their accounting and so on with the digital sales. How would I have any way of knowing in this country, let alone another country? I would go through a business that does that sort of thing, like Patternfish or Interweave’s download store. They have gone to the work of having everything set up so that it is both easy for the knitter and secure for the Designer. And they don’t sell anything else. They don’t sell yarn, they don’t sell notions. All they sell is pdf downloads. They send the knitter back, in essence, to their favorite store for the larger ticket items. In the end, I see little difference in a knitter purchasing a pattern from Patternfish, or another source for a pattern. Yes, they are all competition for each other. That is the nature of commerce. It is because we have choice that we have competition. Remember, there is competition for designers too, and it can be keen. Designers have businesses just like the LYS and others in the industry. We have to look at things that impact our businesses like changes in culture, distribution, and technology.

When technology changes it can be challenging to find ways for businesses to interface effectively with those changes. I believe that good customer service will always bring loyal customers. In the digital age, nimble business owners that are in areas where the online world is a factor would be wise to incorporate the online experience into their business model instead of running from it. It can be a powerful tool for their business if the knitters in their community like to go online.

Peace and Knitting, JoLene Treace

Design What You Love

June 26, 2009

There is some interesting discussion in Ravelry regarding submitting to magazines, and a question came up regarding whether to submit to magazines you hate. My personal opinion on this is two-fold: life is to short to engage in things that you truely hate. After that, recognize that as a Designer there are a number of options and niches open to you. What are your goals? Do you want to be seen everywhere and anywhere? How do you want to grow your business? What kinds of Designs do you love to do? How do you challenge yourself as a designer?

I will be the first to admit my first goal is not quantity. I work part time and that is my primary income. However, I have to be profitable in my design business, as I cannot afford to truely subsidize it from our family budget.

What am I looking for as a Designer in an job? I want to be challenged and inspired. I won’t produce a design I don’t love. Period, end of story, no discussion, no compromise. Does this mean I won’t design outside my norm? Absolutely not. I can love good design that is outside my normal realm. I can appreciate different types of beauty. I know when a design is good and when it is not. When it is good, I love it. When it is not, I don’t. I am not happy with it until it is complete. When it is complete, it feels done. It tells me I can let go of it. My mind no longer wraps around it. It moves on to the next design.

You will never see me slap something together that a monkey could do. Yes, I know there is money in that. I don’t care. I don’t want my Design Name built on that.

Ann Budd recently told me that my designs are always on target, in reference to a design recently sent to them (I have just completed the 5th project I have done for Interweave). Now that is what I want to be known for. Not the volume of simple, mindless things I can churn out that I don’t like knitting myself. I am not trying to be a Diva, again I just feel life is too short.

I don’t have enough time to do all the designs I have swatches for anyway, let alone put my resources into projects I would end up hating. My idea of a simple project, after all, is something like my Three Flowers pattern or Elizabeth I. While I know people enjoy fun fur scarves and I am happy for them, I don’t myself so you will not see me doing one just to make money off of people.

Besides, I am really retarded when it comes to combining novelty yarns. They don’t inspire me. I can admire them in the ball, but the knitting I love is not conducive to using that kind of yarn. Am I less of a Designer because I don’t push that envelope? Because I don’t design anything? Why should I? The knitting world is large enough with plenty of Designers who enjoy novelty yarns and do amazing things with them. Can they do the same things with traditional yarns that I do? Maybe, maybe not. I would hazard a guess that if they loved it, they would be doing it.

There is an adage in writing, to write what you know. This does not mean that you should never stretch, learn, grow, try new things. It means you should be true to yourself, whatever that is, and to be unashamed. There is a balance between learning, taking in and incorporating, and staying rigidly withing your own narrow margins…that balance between keeping your style fresh and not knowing what your style is. Or simply doing something completely different because you want to. If you have been inspired to, I think that is really where you grow as a Designer. There is much more creative energy in those situations. I guess I believe there is more to good design than a formula. Yes, there are theories and fundamentals and rules and all that. But there has to be a spark there too. If there wasn’t anyone could memorize those rules and theories and be the next Coco Channel, Vera Wang, or any other big name Designer with a capitol “D” (in their cases really, really big “D”s).

I will unashamedly offer you what I love, in every design. It will not be something created soley to earn a quick dollar or two, although of course Designs are made with an eye towards an income (they have to be marketable, after all, or as a Designer you cannot continue to design). They will be thoughtful, and deliberate. They will have a story behind them. They will have substance and meaning. They will have a piece of me in every stitch. They will have details that make the garment look better, because care is taken with where stitch patterns stop and start at the seams, and attention is given to what happens to the stitch pattern at the armhole shaping. They will have attention paid to details that really do make it a Designer garment.

I am a Designer with a capitol “D”…not a designer. I am more than a technician, I am an artist. I am a studio artist whose medium is knitting, and my abstract art looks like a classic handknit that is trendy enough the pattern can be a popular seller for years and still look fresh. Any of you who have my patterns and read the section “Behind the Design” know I love to tell the story behind the design. What has inspired it, some of the desing choices that were made and why. And yes, it really is abstract art.

Do I submit to books and magazines? I do. Mostly to books because their time frames are more in keeping with what I can do in a sane manner and work part time. Besides, I love working with Interweave. I have been on the calls for submissions list for XRX for several years, and keep thinking about submitting but have not yet. I like Rick Mondragon, and generally I like the magazine. The biggest factor for me has been time.

I like having my own line of pattern leaflets and being able to work at my own pace. Part of having my own line is the freedom to use the yarns I want to use. I don’t choose yarns that are wildly out of reach, although I know some are expensive.  But I like being able to choose each design element. With a magazine, there is always the chance that the yarn can get changed. It can happen with books too, although that has not happened as much (on a personal level). When I submit to a publisher though, I really look at the yarn I am using in the first place. This helps cut down on substitutions.

What is next for me? Adding things in my pattern line that I don’t have yet, or as much of. Designs in lighter weight yarns, children’s designs, more men’s designs, and color work. More lace. More warm weather designs. Also a book submission.

Peace and Knitting, JoLene Treace

Not so Amazing Amazon

June 17, 2009

I have like many of you been a customer of Amazon, and loved the options available as a consumer. Over the last few years there have been different discussions on some of the designer lists regarding practices by Amazon from the perspective of a self publishing designer…one that has self published a book.

While at TNNA during a dinner conversation, we were discussing POD (print on demand) and opportunities out there for those designers interested in self publishing a book.  Cat Bordhi has her seminar on that topic every year and those who attend are very inspired. I have seen Margaret Fisher’s self published book, Seven Things That Can Make Or Break A Sweater in the booth of my distributor Up North Fiber Art Supply, and it is very well done. It came up in the conversation that Amazon now has POD services and that the books are well done. I went to Amazon’s site to try and dig up some information and ended up doing a web search. What I found was very revealing.

The services are provided by Book Surge, a small company that was purchased by Amazon. Okay, I don’t have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is that they will, unless the POD books are through their company Book Surge, turn off the  “buy” button on authors Amazon.com book pages if they do not switch from their current POD provider to BookSurge.  Amazon gets paid twice, essentially…for the printing of the book and then like they normally do for the purchase. If you don’t want to go this route, you can pay them to warehouse your product and pay whatever associated affiliate fees there are. BookSurge charges 48%, I think I read.  I don’t remember all of the details, but you can read about the details at different web sites including Writer’s Weekly. This is News is a little more than a year old, but it is news to me. There was a lawsuit against Amazon as of 5/19/2008 but I don’t know any updated information past that. They (BookLocker, the ones who filed the lawsuit) are still awaiting the judgement of the case.

This goes against the mission statement of Amazon. While they are free to purchase a POD company if they wish, when reading the details about what transpired and how they went about things, it was not very transparent. Do this or we will punish you. Do this so we can earn 48% off of you, or we will punish you. BookLocker authors have been encouraged to change their links on book pages from Amazon to Barnes and Nobles. While you cannot just put a book on Amazon and expect it to sell with no marketing from you as the author, you do not have to have Amazon forcing you to either pay set up fees (and all other related fees) twice to have files with BookSurge and then whoever you normally work with, nor do you have to be forced to switch to one POD supplier – theirs – with no choice. Barnes and Noble offers free shipping on orders over $25, and they don’t strong arm anyone. This started with Amazon/BookSurge making phone calls (therefore no hard copy to implicate) to Lightening Source customers, letting them know the benefits of switching and if they did not the “buy” button would be turned off. Lightening Source is of course owned by Ingram, and having your POD book listed by Ingram makes your book available to all bookstores, like Barnes and Nobles.

You can view the complaint on-line, filed in Bangor Main by BookLocker. com (they are awaiting the ruling of the judge). I am simply amazed.

I will think long and hard before purchasing from Amazon again myself. I don’t have a problem with them owning a POD company. I DO have a problem with them in essence becoming a publisher, not just a retailer, and demanding that all authors switch to them if they want to continue to use Amazon as they have. You have to switch to us, and pay for everything all over again to set up your digital files, and by the way we will charge you more. And if you don’t switch to us we will make it more difficult for your customer, and we will charge you even more.

To top it off, there are some complaints of the product being of lesser quality. While I have no knowledge of that point, that is what is being claimed by some. If Amazon removed that restriction regarding having to use their POD services my thoughts would be more power to them, let the market decide. As it is, they are taking the decision out of the market and putting it in their pocket.They are trying to straddle the fence between retailer and publisher, and as the largest retailer of books on-line they are creating a monopoly for themselves.

Peace and Knitting, JoLene Treace

Skein Expectations

June 16, 2009

I met some new vendors at TNNA (the summer trade-show was in Columbus, Ohio for The National Needlework Association – a very big deal). One booth I ran into after seeing their yarn in the “What’s New” area was Abundant Yarns. They had a wonderful little booth at TNNA with some really nice yarn.  And their presence was positive and enthusiastic. I loved their energy and how they interacted wtih people, and with me as a designer. They were all young…and sometimes in this business, when people have been around a long time and they have been taken advantage of or they have become “big”, “really busy”, or what have you, sometimes in that process something suffers for it. They don’t have all of their yarns and things on their web site yet, but they do have a regular shop with other products. Their store brand hand dye is very promising as well as Eco friendly.

I talked with them a couple times over the weekend and am excited because I found a yarn in the perfect colors for a design inspired by the Dingo. The design features traditional Aran and Guernsey stitch patterns, but because of the arrangement of the stitches you get a very aboriginal feel. I love the stitch pattern, and had found only one other yarn in the right colors. I never swatched it in the other yarn as the dyer had told me she was probably going to drop that particular yarn. They were very friendly and interested in the design and took my contact information and I look forward to doing some business with them…and most importantly, swatching with their yarn for this design. When I swatch the design, if it speaks to me, I will most definetely use the yarn. I am pretty certain that it will, but sometimes in the swatching process there are surprises. If it doesn’t work for this one, you can be sure that I will swatch until there is one that sings to me. I want to use their yarn, not only did I love the colors but they were just fun and equally nice.

Lorna’s Laces is equally nice. They are approachable and kind. Year after year that has to be a bit hard to maintain.

I know there are designers out there that get yarn and they are enthusiastic about it and then the vendor never hears about it or sees anything. I don’t like that as a designer as it looks bad for us designers. For the yarn vendor, particularly the small dyer, they obviously cannot afford to just hand out yarn to every designer. That is no small investment on their part. For my part when I do take yarn, I will lovingly swatch with it and let the yarn talk to me. I make a big effort to facilitate the design process where that spark happens and something that I love can be born. I won’t do a design that I would not love to wear just to push something out the door. I don’t feel that is my best effort and doesn’t do the yarn justice either. I have a relationship with that yarn, and it has to work, it has to communicate something to me or it won’t work on paper.

At TNNA I ran the gamut of old friends asking me when I am going to use their yarn, to new/fairly new contacts being a bit brisk (net result I felt somehow dirty for inquiring about their yarn as a designer, for surely I was out to take advantage and never produce). And yet when I talk to a yarn company, I never assume anything or communicate that I assume anything. My first question is can I order from you if I am having trouble getting a color in a particular yarn that I want, or how do you work with independent designers? (This is after telling them what publications I have been in and who I have worked with). I will admit, the ones who have made me feel somehow dirty in the process are few and far between. But I hate the process of talking to new companies, simply because I don’t know whether I am going to be viewed as a leech or a partner.

Yarn companies and distributors I love in alphabetical order: Abundant Yarns, Arnhild’s Knitting Studio, Black Water Abbey Yarns (not at TNNA but I did not want to leave them out), Brown Sheep, Green Mountain Spinnery, Hand Jive Knits, Interlacements, Lorna’s Laces, Louet North America, Plymouth Yarn, Rowan distributors Westminster Fibers, Shi Bui Knits, Skacel, Trendsetter, Universal Yarns.

Out of these companies I have not used all of their yarn. But they are very nice people. There are others too of course who are, and I may have forgotten a few. But these are the ones who have stuck out in my mind because their contact people (or when the company is small, the owner) treats me with kindness and leaves my dignity intact…this is not related to whether they can provide yarn support. Not every company can afford to do that, nor should they be expected to. That is a personal decision based on their best business decision and what practices they feel are best for their business.

What is important to me as a designer is how someone interacts with me. Kindness is an important commodity. Likewise, in my dealings with publishers and yarn companies, I do not have the attitude that they are all going to rip me off, or talk sternly to them about the fairness of their contracts before one is even seen. If I did that I would develop a reputation as being difficult to work with…and would probably be passed over for work. I prefer to have someone talk sternly to me when I have done something to merit it! Perhaps it is my own insecurities that lead me to read more into admonitions that are there from those few, but in a business setting when someone is asking how do you like to work, you should just clearly state how you like to work and what your expectations are and leave it at that.

For example, if you really don’t care whether designers produce something with that ball or not, as you feel eventually they will use your yarn then say we are happy to give you the ball of yarn. Please don’t feel any pressure, enjoy the yarn and if something comes out of it let us know. If not please keep us in mind for future projects. If you are happy to provide yarn for swatching, within reason, define what that is. If you provide yarn for sample garments but not swatching, simply say so. This is what we do: state it with the facts. I as a designer want to know how you like to work, and it isn’t that I am asking for a handout…it is very costly for me to produce a design and if I am using your yarn and I am a successful designer you benefit from that, so anything to make the design less costly is appreciated. Wholesale cost for yarn for sample garments is great. Some companies will provide yarn for the sample garments as long as the specifics for the yarn are listed in the pattern (fair enough, I wouldn’t use it if it were not right for the design anyway). I think it is when people come to the table with assumptions and do not communicate that problems arise, because each party works differently and therefore has different needs and priorites…so their expcetations can differ as well as their assumptions.

Some have more credentials that you need to produce than others if you want yarn support, but they are not unkind about it.  That is just business, and it pertains to their business and in a world where anyone can hang out a shingle and claim to be a designer, you really cannot blame them.

I suppose that may be where some of the problem lies. Creative people are not always ahem good business people. But this is a business, and in the thrill of doing something creative you have to be pragmatic as well. As thrilling as it is to get free yarn (they love me, they really, really love me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) you had better make sure it is something you are likely to do something with, as the first thing, and then after that, make every effort to do so.  That yarn is their bread and butter and as such deserves your respect, and utmost care and regard. If you take that ball or skein you have made a committment to them and if you do not look at it that way you should not take the yarn. That is why I usually prefer to buy yarn I will swatch with, so that if it doesn’t work out I don’t feel as though I have to force a design out of it. I know there are yarn companies that just want to get their yarn into your hands and they will tell you that. There os still that hope and desire that their investment will be met iwth a design. That is why they want to get it in your hands, otherwise they would not give it to you.

All in all it was a very good show. The market was a little smaller, and there were not as many people from the coasts, but it was a good show. Contact wise it was a good show for me as well. I connected with companies I am working with now, as well as made some new connections. I also promised Arnhild I will be getting something done in her yarn. I have said that for a few years now, and things have always come up. The combination has to be right…the right yarn, the right elements for the design, the right design to add to my line at the time. This year I just plum ran out of time. I am working on a fair isle mitten though, so be on the look out for that. It will be in Rauma Finnulgarn, a yarn Arnhild distributes. She, by the way, I have known for years and just love. I have known her as long as Marilyn King and Beth Brown Reinsel. They knew me before I was a designer, or right at the very beginning anyway.

Peace and Knitting, JoLene Treace

TNNA and Branding

June 11, 2009

I will be at TNNA this weekend. I have been going for the last 6 years, perhaps. Over the years I have developed my own style,: according to some they could spot one of my designs in a heartbeat. Different designers have their own something that makes their body of work take on a life of its own. What that something is can be hard to define for a creative person. When going into this business though it is important to think about your “brand”, to develop it and to market it. Your brand should be strong and identifiable.

Sometimes I see discussions revolving around “I am a designer and I want to do a design using part of Designer A’s design, how much do I need to change to make it mine?”

Well, to an extent we all take in the world around us and reinterpret it in our own way. That said, if you are just changing enough to make it yours, well, you really are not being much of a designer. There, I have said it. I am not saying you are not being creative, and that you are not being terribly clever. But there is a certain set of expectations implied at this level, and if you are going to be a designer, sing your own song. Find your own voice. Will you be inspired by others? Yes, you will. But don’t set out to make your own version of a strawberry fruit hat after seeing the one that was selling like hotcakes at the yarn store and expect credibility as a designer. At that point you are being a technician. Much like getting a paint by number kit and changing the colors and then proclaiming you are a painter/artist. That is an extreme example but you get what I am saying.

Some argue that this happens in fashion retail all the time. This isn’t the world of retail fashion though. This is the hobby industry, a small world where word gets around. We are influenced by fashion trends greatly, and there are knitting designers who do work in that world. But this is a different market with different “rules” and expectations.

Plus, when you follow your own visions your own style emerges and your brand will be stronger. I don’t generally design for the market. I design what I would like to wear. I design for myself. While not all of my designs would look good on my body, if I had the figure to go with it I would love to wear them. And I guess for me that is the distinction. I have the luxury of designing what I love. Early on I made the decision not to do the quick and easy projects that I saw that were so popular in the market. Those types of projects are not for me. I generally dislike them and usually feel that there is not much of a designer element to those types of projects. I don’t want my name attached to designs that anyone could do. It doesn’t take a designer to come up with a plain stockinette top down sock. If I were to do a sock pattern, I would then need to add some designer details. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying there should not be easy basic patterns…I am saying you don’t need designers for those, necessarily. Now, when you have a simple design with well thought out attention to simple details you can have a simple and basic project that is also above the mundane. For that, yes, a designer. Coco Channel was very good at that. And we can be too.

I will be going to TNNA this weekend, the big summer trade show for The National Needlework Association. I’ll have the opportunity to reconnect with designer colleagues, vendors I work with, yarn companies providing support. I plan on visiting the booths of the yarn companies I have talked to that have expressed an interest in providing yarn support for my designs and say thank you. If you are a new designer, be aware when going to shows like this that the yarn companies are there to connect with the yarn store owners who are coming in first. They are their bread and butter. If they have a customer come in their booth they need to take care of them, and you need to let them do that. They are not selling yarn to you…you are probably their excited about their yarn, yes…and using their yarn gives them exposure…to a point.  It depends on how many patterns you sell. Don’t just go from booth to booth expecting them to be happy to gift you with yarn because you are a designer. Anyone these days can say they are a designer, and yarn companies can get hits from a lot of people who are not very serious about that title looking for a handout.

Your show etiquette is part of your branding too, in a sense, as your professional behaviour will impact your brand. Do you follow through or not? I never take yarn that I am not seriously interested in. The yarn is not free. There are expectations involved, and someone had to pay for it even if you did not. Obviously they hope you will love it and use their yarn. If you take it home and it sits there and you never get around to it, that is money down the drain for the yarn company and poor professional behaviour on our part by not being more considerate of each other’s resources.

Everything connected to your business can affect your branding, whether it is tangible (things like your logo and how you use your logo, your designs themselves, your web presence) or not (how your conduct your business). Use your assets wisely and plan from the beginning for success. Picture yourself in the place that you want to be when making decisions and ask yourself if the decision would be the same. If a logo would not be good enough for you if you were more successful, then you should not settle for it now.

Peace and Knitting, JoLene Treace

Book Submission In The Works and Other News

April 15, 2009

I won’t name any names as it is too early, but I will tell you that I have begun to go over my book submission as I am going to be submitting my proposal to another publisher. A contact that I know in the business is going to look at my proposal and I am frankly nervous.

I have not talked about my book idea in a long time, and for those who don’t remember it, the idea for the book is simple: all of the designs are inspired by animals at the zoo. Originally it was our local children’s zoo, but over time and travels there have been a couple things added that are not from our local zoo. For those who are familiar with my designs you know that none of my work is representational, it is all abstract. Zambesi River and Squirrel Monkey are both examples of designs inspired by animals.

I originally came up with the concept a couple years before Handknit Holidays came out, and had shown all of the swatches to Ann Budd as well as Meg Swansen (I went to knitting camp when I turned 40 with Katherine Misegades, I am now 45). Various people in the industry have seen the swatches and loved the concept. I submitted the book to Interweave, but the editor in the book department at the time did not feel knitters could relate to a book that had animals as the inspiration. If I had changed the concept to include other things, it might have been a different story.

However, I can see a whole series of books, either Inspired Knitting or a Knitter’s Travelogue and then different subtitles. A book for example with designs inspired on the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago. A book on Sacred Places (I have a design already that is inspired by Arlington Cemetary with some wonderful photography).  The Great Lakes, Route 66, Eclectic Architecture.

I went through my computer and printed off a whole stack of papers that I will be going through and makeing sure there isn’t anything I want to change. I went through my swatches the other day and sorted out which ones I want to re-knit in a different yarn, as I have yarn support now and want to use yarns from different yarn companies that are so generous and helpful. Skacel, Plymouth, Trendsetter, and Dale are all ones I would like to thank for various reasons. It it were not for Trudy VanStralen (Louet Sales) I would not be a designer today. I did my first professional design for them, and she was very encouraging, followed closely by Black Water Abbey’s Marilyn King. Marilyn is a wonderful woman and I treasure her dearly.

I am at a point in my design career where I am trying to make my patterns more widely appealing though, and part of that when you market to yarn stores is having designs offered in yarns that are available wholesale. So I am doing two versions of many of my designs, a worsted weight version in Black Water Abbey and then another version in either a different worsted weight wool, or a different weight yarn or different fiber. I am looking at having  some of the same patterns be a better fit for southern states by using more all season blends and lighter weights (Schulana Merino Cotton 135 is a DK weight Merino Cotton, for example, and they have a Merino Cotton 90 which is a Worsted Weight according to the web site).

I guess you could say I have a larger pallete to choose from now, which is great fun. Oh, yes. Thank you to Shi Bui Knits. For those of you who are shop owners who will be going to TNNA I will be providing a final list of sample garments and yarn vendors who have donated yarn, along with their booth numbers, closer to TNNA. Barring anything catastrophic you will see:

Calliope (New Leaflet) knit in Lyndon Hill from Plymouth Yarns, Bramble Berry and Lush (New Design) knit in Schulana Merino Cotton 90 from Skacel, Harvest Spice (New Design) knit in ShiBui Knits Silk Cloud, Elizabeth I knit in Claudia Handpaints Silk Lace.

Interview with Joanne Seiff: Day 6 on the Fiber Festival Blog Tour

April 8, 2009

Blossom in different yarns

Here is a scan from a picture of some swatches I did for Blossom, a scarf design I did for Joanne’s book Fiber Gathering. The yarn is Acero, from Brooks Farm Yarn. Not only are these very nice folks at Sheep and Wool festivals, but they also are at Stitches Midwest every year, which is where I happened to meet them. Not everyone has the opportunity to go to these types of events or to pick up the same weight of yarns so the picture illustrates how the lace looks with different weights of yarn.

On to my stop in the blog tour, an interview with Joanne Seiff, the author of the book:

JoLene: One of the things I like to do on my blog is talk about design from the perspective of business because there are so many new designers out there, or knitters interested in becoming designers and I feel that there is not very much information out there that is easy to find to help in that transition to professional designer so I would like to explore the process you went through with your book from that aspect.

1.    What were you looking for in a publisher? I know this is a very broad question, but the process you went through took you through more than one publisher. What made you ultimately settle with your current publisher?

Joanne:

It’s pretty hard to land a book contract with even one publisher! For this project, I needed to have the support of a publisher who shared my values. We needed to share the same vision for the book. There were a lot of issues to consider, but the first one was about compensation.

Publishers have different ways of “paying” for things. For instance, for Fiber Gathering, we (the photographer and I) had to travel a great deal, which is very expensive. The advance had to cover the expenses of the book. (An advance on royalties means the book will have to sell enough to cover that advance—sort of a loan– before I earn any more money at all)

Some publishers offer a large advance, but then expect the author to cover costs like paying for models or for multiple photographers, stylists and illustrators out of that advance. Other publishers offer a smaller advance, but they cover these costs from their own budget. In the end, I had to choose what made the best sense for this book.

There were other concerns, too. I wanted a rural feel to my book, and I had to argue for that rather than a slick urban look. One potential publisher wanted to only use models who were size 6-8, and no older than 23. I wasn’t willing to do this…I believe “regular” women are beautiful, and wanted a variety of ages and sizes in my book as well.

In the end, Wiley was the best fit for me. The editors there treated me with respect. We truly collaborated on the process. I felt great about my choice in the end, although it was a rocky journey to publication.

2.    When a designer has an idea for a book, what process do they go through in presenting their book to a publisher?

Joanne:

The short version is that you write a non-fiction book proposal. Your local library has books that explain how to do this. It’s like a 35-70 page term paper, explaining the book’s concept, the audience, why it will sell and how you will help to market it. The twist is that for a knitting book, you do all this and provide design pitches too, with sketches, concepts, swatches and other details. Most of this is done by email, so it helps if everything is available electronically. (swatches can be scanned!)

Some people have agents who represent them, and others contact publishers on their own. Landing an agent who’s effective and represents you properly is a difficulty in itself. In the knitting world, you can publish a book without an agent if you feel confident negotiating your own terms and contract.

3.    What were the most challenging aspects of your book project?

Joanne:

Finding a publisher I could trust and collaborate with was the most difficult.

– Traveling. Travel is expensive and very wearing. Even when going to fun events like festivals, it can be very hard on the body. It’s hard to stay healthy.

– Organizing 15 designers’ work. Designers are fabulous, creative people. When one combines frequent travel to 11+ events with organizing the designs, contracts, and designers, things were sometimes hard to manage. It turned out beautifully, though!

– I combined all this with writing my first book. I had no idea how working with a publisher went either, and that was challenging.

4.    What were the most rewarding?

Joanne:

-I had so many positive experiences with lovely people at fiber festivals. What amazing and kind people are involved in our community!

-Writing the essay drafts was a joy. Back at the hotel room, the words would pour out. I’d be grinning like a fool at the computer while I tried to describe it all.

-Seeing the galleys and holding the book in my hands for the first time were rewarding moments, too.

-Finally, every time someone says something positive about the book, it’s like they’ve given me a present!

5.    What were your favorite fiber festivals to visit? As much fun as it would be to go to sheep and wool festivals, was the travel for the book hectic and did you have to approach it from a different perspective since you were doing it for research for your book?

Joanne:

This sounds corny, but every festival was my favorite. There isn’t one best festival…there are special aspects to each event. The people are always fantastic-no matter the event- and the festivals all have important and unique regional differences. For instance, small festivals are less crowded and more intimate. You have more time to shop, learn from others, and have a relaxed experience. Don’t discount a small festival!

The travel was hectic and hard. For a while, we had no days off. For instance, in October 2007, we went to 3 festivals. When we’d get home late Sunday night or on Monday morning, we’d have to go to work right away. I’d have lots to do for the book, and my photographer (aka my husband, the professor) had to get back to teaching his Genetics lectures and running labs.

When you’re writing about and photographing a festival, it’s not like going to a festival for fun. We were at the fairgrounds by 7:30 or 8 in the morning, photographing things and interviewing participants before the crowds arrived. We then stayed for evening events to cover all the different aspects of an event that lasts only 2 days. A rainy day didn’t mean we could go home early—we still needed photographs and something to write about! Then, we’d often drive 2 or more hours back to an airport. Then we took flights back to our home airport, in Nashville. It’s another 70 mile drive from that airport to our house…and sometimes we did this 3 times a month.

6.    Do you have another book planned?

Joanne:

Yes! Knit Green: Twenty Projects and Ideas for Sustainability will be published in September 2009. This book has essays, much like Fiber Gathering, and the topics cover how to incorporate environmental sustainability into one’s knitting and fiber arts. I designed all the projects for this book myself and started working on it even before Fiber Gathering went to press. I’m very excited about Knit Green! 2009 is a big year for me!

If you’d like to know more about Knit Green’s publication, keep an eye on my blog, http://www.joanneseiff.blogspot.com, and sign up for my newsletter on my website, http://www.joanneseiff.com.

Next Stop on the Blog Tour:

April 9th           Cindy Moore, designer  – http://fitterknitter.livejournal.com/

This You have Got to See: I Hope They Will Be Baaaack.

April 2, 2009

Magpie Eyes Designs in the UK has an enjoyable blog, which I discovered from the blog stats on word press. So glad you left a comment on my blog! One of the things I really enjoyed seeing was a You Tube (I think it was You Tube) video on the blog about extreme sheep herding.

As you all know, the blog tour has started, and one of the fascinating things about fiber festivals IMHO is watching the sheepherding demonstrations. Mt. Bruce Station in Michigan is within a reasonable driving distance that has a fall festival, and my husband being the wonderful fiber husband that he is took me. Those dogs are smart. No doubt about it, and they love what they do.

Now I want to say upfront that I love animals. If I find a bug (unless it is something like an ant in my kitchen) I will take it outside and not kill it. But I will also say that I am not a vegetarian. The Native Americans in their culture had a great take on the whole issue I think. They thanked the animal for its’ sacrifice, and were respectful of what was involved in that. Yes we are meat eaters but we don’t disrespect the animal or are wasteful with its’ life. I interject this because I know there are those concerned with how animals are treated and so on. I don’t think these sheep are mistreated. Their humans might be having some fun, but that doesn’t mean the animals are being mistreated.

Shepherds in general have nothing to gain by mistreating their sheep. Their animal will not be healthy and the fleece will not be in good condition. The shepherds you see at sheep and wool festivals often are deeply connected to their flocks. I had purchased some of the yarn at Mt. Bruce, and enjoyed it immensly. It had the name of the sheep on it that it came from. You just don’t get that level of intimacy normally in knitting without going to a sheep and wool festival of some sort, or purchase yarn from a shepherd that sells yarn. It really adds something to your knitting.

For the designer though, it is difficult to design with these yarns on a large basis. People generally want to use the yarn that the garment was photographed in (despite the many intrepid knitters who are able to substitute and so on). I always write the yarn requirements generically (fiber content and weight of yarn, and yardage/weight in ball or skein, then number of balls or skeins) besides listing the yarn that the sample garment was knit in. Now that I have more distribution, and have designs in more books (1 more with Interweave this year coming out this summer or fall, and I just signed a contract for another design going in another Interweave book), I especially need to look at yarns that are readily available not only to knitters via the internet, but yarn stores.

I have not quite decided what to do about the whole printed pattern vs. pdf download issue. Many of my customers like the fact that I don’t generally have pdf downloads for all of my patterns, but that is because I don’t sell direct to knitters…I only sell wholesale. I really need to see if I can set up pdf down loads where I can control how it is set up and so on so I know what is being sold, but have that information go also to an “affiliate”…and they would get a percentage as the purchase would actually go through them.

I realize I don’t need to do this, I could go direct. But I don’t want to undercut the local yarn store. There are many that serve a segment that does not go online, and many that won’t carry a full pattern line of a designer that has their patterns in pdf download. From their perspective I cannot blame them. Why should they invest in a full line when it is readily available on the Internet?

One of the things my distributor likes about my pattern line is the quality of paper that I use. I use very good quality paper. I am rather proud of that. I use better quality paper than many patterns I see. I don’t charge more, but I use a good quality paper. I also have a large photo on the front cover. I have a Xerox Phaser now that I do all my color printing with, that is cheaper than my other color laser printer that I had so I may begin to include more photography in my patterns.

When you look at a $6 pattern, as a consumer, you don’t always realize that the designer doesn’t get $6 in profit and there isn’t a good reason why they shouldn’t have more pages, or a good reason why they should not have more color photography. $6 is pretty much the going rate for patterns in the US although some are higher and some are lower. If you are selling wholesale you are selling that pattern for $3, if you are selling it to a distributor you are selling it for less than that. You have the cost of the sheet protectors, the paper, and the printing coming out of that too, plus the shipping or gas to acquire those materials.

Also coming out of the “profit” on pattern sales: If you have any advertising or costs to recoup yet from the design itself (you don’t really make a profit on a design until all costs of producing a design are met, including your time for designing, pattern writing, paying for tech editing and test knitting, photography, pattern layout and cover design, charts and schematics), office expenses, upgrades for software, association dues, professional memberships, cost of yarn and so on.

There are days when my head swims with all of that when I read comments on the Internet in places where people gather. It is so easy to be critical, especially when you have never tried doing something yourself, and don’t know everything that is involved. Many gripe about paying $6 a pattern, as they think it is a lot of money for 1 pattern.

Which takes me back to the sheep. Shepherding in itself is an art. I know there are certain practices that organizations like PETA are up in arms about. I also know that it looks worse than it is, and is not as horrific as described, and I also know why it is done: because flies like to lay eggs in those sweaty folds of skin on the rumps of sheep. Any sheep suffering the infestation and misery of that would have a shepherd looking for ways to take care of it. As I am not a shepherd, I don’t know all the ins and outs of it. I have read about it, but filed it under stuff I don’t have to try and remember. I understand why they do it, and that for many it is currently the best alternative for them and their sheep.

Anesthetics are not without risk. There is more risk with a general anesthetic than the mulsing itself. Doing a local? Having to restrain a sheep to numb it up enough to do it is not without pain and trauma either. I don’t know how many of you have ever had stitches, but for those who have you know how much it hurts to have that local. Imagine having enough injections to numb up your rump. It would take far longer to do the local itself, and would be much more painful, than the procedure itself. Sometimes things are less traumatic to just do it and get it done. They don’t take great chunks of flesh, they take skin folds. And while that would be something that would have you and I agonizing for days, animals are much more resilient to those types of things. It is easy for us to look in their eyes and ascribe everything human to them.

While animals do think and they do experience feelings, they are different than humans. While we need to be responsible when we own animals, as we are the center of their world then,we also need to remember that they are not little humans. Their needs sometimes differ than ours…or rather, how their needs are met sometimes differ. Dogs for example have certain needs that, when treating them as baby humans those needs go unmet and you can have a very unruly and insecure dog on your hand. Just watch the Dog Whisperer or It’s Me or The Dog, and you will see what I mean. The need expressions of love differently than we do.

That is pretty easy to do though, assume that someone/something has the same needs as we ourselves do. We do that with each other all the time so it isn’t surprising that we do it with animals as well. They need us though, to keep a balance. As caretakers of this earth we need a balance in all things, and I find that is the thing that I struggle with the most myself. Some days I balance pretty well, and other days it is more of a struggle. Today I am still looking for my glasses, and I have been up for an hour and a half. I quit long enough to type out a blog post. I will have to resume my search though, as my day will be decidedly off kilter without them and the day will slip away from me again.That we all strike our own balance our own way there is no doubt in my mind.

Peace and Knitting, JoLene Treace

Knitting Experience: Moving Stitch Markers to Finish Yo’s and Dec’s

March 23, 2009

One of the dilemma’s of writing patterns is how much information to include in patterns. American patterns in particular have a lot more instruction and direction than our European knitting brothers and sisters are used to. This can be good and it can be bad.

For the new knitter it is a boon, if you have  a well written pattern that teaches you as you go in many respects. However, it really isn’t the task of the pattern to teach knitting. In the end that is an awful lot to expect of one pattern. If you think of how much information is in one good knitting reference book, for just one technique. Plus, with many knitters being online, having good knitting references is but a Google search away.

One thing that has come up recently in one of my patterns is the question of how to handle a yo, sk2p, yo when it straddles a stitch pattern repeat. Where this confuses some is when it appears on a chart, and the yo is on one side of the line and the sk2p and other yo is on the other side of the line. If you stop and think about it, when you complete the sequence of stitches, that yo and dec that are on either side of “the line” from each other are exactly as they are charted. That yo is still at the beginning of that repeat. The dec is still on the other side of the stitch marker. And you have not gained or lost any stitches. The yo that you worked replaced the one you took to work the decrease.

The fact that you have to cross the line to snag a stitch to work the decrease really doesn’t matter. You are allowed to do that. The line is not a thou shalt not cross or the knitting police shalt skewer you with pointy needles kind of line. It is a reference point.

So for those that don’t know how to do it, here is how:

1. Slip the stitch marker off the needle that is in the way of working your yo, double dec, yo.

2. Work the first yo, then work the double dec.

3. Put the stitch maker  back on the right needle (remember, in this example the stitch pattern has the repeat  end after working the dec, the second yo is the beginning of the next rep), work the next yo and continue on your merry way with the next repeat.

I don’t mind including a paragraph in the general instructions on the pattern with a little teaching on how to handle this when knitters run into it because beginners really would not know, and I don’t know that I have generally read anything that specifically said hey, move your stitch markers. So I can see doing a little teaching in the general instruction for the benefit of the learning knitter.

I know there are patterns out there that tell people when to move their stitch markers every time they need to adjust them. To be honest there is a part of me that has hairs at the back of my neck raise at the thought that I should have to tell people to move their stitch markers every time this happens.

At a certain point we knitters have to take responsability for our knitting. It is my responsibility to learn a technique, it is my responsibility when learning something new to jot notes where needed. It is my responsibility to utilize what I have learned, and if I know I need a reference to remind me, it is my responsibility to take my highlighter and mark my chart, or jot notes on my pattern in areas where I have noted I need to pay particular attention after reading through the whole pattern before beginning. I know everyone does this this can be something that we forget to do, but it is our knitting. Read through the pattern, look at the charts. Mark up the chart and pattern with notes and stuff the way you like it . There is no way every designer can do it the way every single knitter likes it.

Some knitters like lots of handholding, others don’t. Some like certain types of information, some don’t. There is a reason I put the general instructions at the beginning of the pattern and don’t have it mixed in with the pattern directions. Less experienced knitters can refer to it for learning as they need it, more experienced knitters can see what is being used in the pattern, and the directions themselves are concise and easier to follow as there are not how to knit instructions or tips for better knitting mixed in with how to knit the garment instructions.

If a pattern tries to be all things to all people who are at all levels, it will ultimately fail. Even the best patterns can only meet part of the needs most of the time. The prime need of the pattern? To communicate clearly how to knit the item as pictured. The prime objective of the pattern at the end of the day should not be “okay, I have to think of every possible way in which every knitter could be confused or not know something so that I can control their knitting experience”.

The prime objective at the end of the day should be that the pattern be written clearly, concisely, and without errors…and that you have communicated how to knit the item as pictured, not that you are teaching someone to knit. Unfortunately, there are three types of Adult learners. As such, different styles of learning and therefore different styles of presentation are going to appeal to them. There is not going to be complete agreement on what a perfectly concise, clear, and well written pattern is.

A well written pattern is not meant to educate, it is meant to tell how to knit a particular item. That said, if there is an unusual technique or something that is not used frequently enough to be in a general reference, it should be included in the pattern so that it is not difficult to complete the design.

When I am knitting something, I don’t expect the pattern to do all the thinking for me. In the end I really think we need a balance. That is what I strive for in my patterns. I try and have a balance between “handholding” and not enough information.  Experienced knitters don’t need to wade through lots of extra instruction with each pattern, and less experienced knitters can use a little education to expand their skills and make them stronger and more confident knitters. I try and provide some extra information so that less experienced knitters will have more information that can help give them better results. Becoming an experienced knitter entails taking that knowledge and applying it so that you do not have to be told how to do something each time it needs to be done.

An obvious example would be a doorknob. We know to turn a doorknob in order for a door to open. Are you the kind of knitter that has to be reminded to grasp the knob firmly and turn the knob counter-clockwise towards the right until the knob stops and then push open each time you open a door, and do you have to be re-taught for each new style of door knob you see (hey, they all work the same, regardless of whether they are a lever or whether they are round,  or oval…but we don’t get freaked out by them like we do by our knitting).

Or are you the kind of knitter that looks at a new style door knob, or a door knob in a new situation and are able to recognize that yes, it looks new, but the mechanics are the same and I know how to apply this. I don’t need to be told how to do this each time. So you open the door confidently and walk through. Experience is about taking what you know and applying it.

I hope you open many knitting doors.

Peace and Knitting, JoLene Treace